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Perez Seeks Audit Of Race Designation Policies

March 16, 2006
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer

Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez on Wednesday asked for an investigation into allegations that administrators at the Sport & Medical Sciences Academy pressured parents to change the racial identification of their biracial children to meet state goals.

"Obviously, something went wrong here," Perez said.

In a letter to John Langeland, chairman of the city's Internal Audit Commission, Perez, chairman of the school board, asked for an accounting of both written policies for determining the racial composition of the city's magnet schools "as well as what policies are actually being implemented by school administrators."

The audit should determine whether practices "are being carried out in a way that is, or could be, coercive in forcing parents to change the reported racial designation of their children," Perez wrote.

In his letter, Perez noted that he was responding to assertions by parents and students reported in The Courant, which, "if true, are particularly disturbing."

In that report, two biracial students said they agreed to change their racial designation from black to white after Principal Eduardo V. Genao or former Assistant Principal Norma Lavoie asked them to do so to ensure maximum state funding. The boys' parents were angry that administrators put the request to their children without calling them for permission.

A third parent, whose name was provided by the school, said Genao called her and that she did not mind changing the designation of her child's race to help the school.

Wednesday, a fourth parent, Heidi Jackson, said Genao had called her, too, and startled her when he said "`I have to have a certain amount of white people in the school and right now I'm a little low in these numbers. Do you mind if I make your daughter white?' He was a little more articulate, but this is what I grasped out of the conversation."

Jackson said she consented to the change to help the school. She is white and her husband is black, she said; her daughter's birth certificate states that she is black.

"My husband was offended," Jackson said. "He didn't feel that I should have changed it."

Genao, who was out of town Wednesday, previously said he changed the racial designation of six biracial children, but stressed that he did so only with parental permission and only in cases in which children's identities were mistaken. He denied that he sought to change the statistics to maximize state funding or to meet desegregation goals. However, he conceded that he thought funding for his school was tied to racial quotas and that he did discuss his perception of the funding formula with parents and students.

The funding for magnet schools that open this year is tied to racial quotas. But the funding for established Hartford magnet schools is based on a ratio of urban and suburban students, a standard that Sport & Medical Sciences Academy meets.

Where race is relevant for the academy is in regard to compliance with the Sheff vs. O'Neill desegregation settlement. Under that agreement between the state and the plaintiffs, 28 percent of a magnet school's students must be white for the school to count toward reducing racial isolation. With 89 white students of 400 enrolled, the school falls short.

"Though there is tremendous pressure on the state to meet their obligations under Sheff vs. O'Neill to reduce racial isolation in Hartford schools, the board of education and its staff should not feel obligated to `modify numbers' to make the state's efforts appear more successful than they are," Perez said in his letter requesting the audit.

Superintendent of Schools Robert Henry said he and his staff will cooperate with the auditor and declined further comment.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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